Heather Arnold - 2015 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Graduate Student, Northwestern University, USA
Country of Birth: USA
Educational Background: BSc Electrical Engineering, Kansas State University, USA
My interest in science and engineering began on a family vacation to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center near my ninth birthday. I was so enthralled by the rockets, the solar system, and the prospect of exploring outer space that I asked my parents how I could someday work for NASA. They told me I would have to study engineering, and I have been cultivating that interest ever since. I was also very interested in computers and electronics from an early age. My father, who began his computer science career repairing televisions, filled our basement with computers and electronic test equipment. We spent many weekends building and testing electronic circuits.
As a Ph.D. student, my primary responsibility is to complete a body of original work that comprises my Ph.D. thesis. My current research explores the effect of ionizing radiation on novel nanoelectronic devices. Nanomaterials, or materials which have one dimension no thicker than a few atoms, are attractive for use in a variety of electronic systems, including transistors, sensors, and solar cells, since they can be potentially used to increase computing speed and are very lightweight. However, the effect of ionizing radiation on nanomaterials must be understood before they can be deployed in high radiation environments, such as outer space. To study how radiation interacts with nanomaterials, I build prototype devices, expose them to various sources of ionizing radiation, such as vacuum ultraviolet rays, and gamma rays, and study how the radiation perturbs device performance.
Always keep an open mind, and don't be afraid to follow your passions! Many years ago, a friend of mine was dismayed to find I had decided to major in engineering in college. She thought it sounded so hard and boring and was sure I would enjoy a different field of study more. Although her concern was well intentioned, she couldn't have been more wrong! In the ensuing years, I have had the opportunity to study fascinating research questions, meet many interesting people, and travel all over the country. A STEM career will open many doors for you-don't let well-meaning friends and family scare you off.
It's also important to remember to persevere through the tough times. Science and engineering can be hard work, but it is also very rewarding work!